Characterization factors for inland water eutrophication at the damage level in life cycle impact assessment

  • Jaap Struijs
  • Arthur Beusen
  • Dick de Zwart
  • Mark Huijbregts



Life Cycle Impact Assessment methodology is still lacking a procedure that relates phosphorus emission to ecological damage in freshwater ecosystems. The aim of this study is to apply new insights in the characterization of aqueous eutrophication at the end-point level. Characterization factors for freshwater eutrophication in European waters caused by emissions of phosphorus to agricultural soils and freshwater were developed. The characterization factors are representative for emissions to the 101 most important European river catchments west of the Ural Mountains.


We combined site-generic fate factors of total phosphorus, calculated by means of the integrated assessment model CARMEN, with damage factors based on a concentration–response relationship between the concentration of total phosphorus and occurrence of macrofauna species in freshwaters. Environmental fate processes, such as surface run off, groundwater drainage, and hydrological freshwater residence times, are included in the fate factor which relates emission of phosphorus from wastewater treatment plants and due to agricultural supply of manure and fertilizer, to concentrations in freshwater.

Results and discussion

The product of fate factor and damage factor constitutes the characterization factor at the endpoint level with the following results: 1.1·103, 1.2·103, and 2.1·104 disappeared fraction of species·m3·day/kg phosphorus emission for manure, fertilizer, and sewage treatment plants, respectively. Normalization factors are based on the emission of total phosphorus in Europe resulting in 60.1 disappeared fraction of species·m3/person with a relative contribution of 16% by manure application, 18% by fertilizer application, and 66% by sewage treatment plant emissions.


From intervention (P emission) to ecological damage of inland waters, most relevant site-specific processes are included to derive a characterization factor at the damage level. Although the characterisation factor for P due to agricultural application is a factor of 20 lower compared to emissions to freshwater, the nutrient enrichment of European freshwaters is still for one third attributed to agricultural application of phosphorus.


Concentration total phosphorus in water Ecological damage Freshwater eutrophication Life cycle impact assessment Nutrient enrichment Site-generic fate modeling 

Supplementary material

11367_2010_232_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (255 kb)
ESM 1(PDF 255 kb)


  1. Berdowski JJM, Jonker WJ (1994) Emission in the Netherlands. Industrial sectors, regions and individual substances (1992 and estimates for 1993; Publication series emission registration no. 21; in Dutch). Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and Environment, The HagueGoogle Scholar
  2. Beusen A (2005) User manual of CARMEN1. National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM), Bilthoven, Manuscript, not publishedGoogle Scholar
  3. Beusen AHW, Klepper O, Meinardi CR (1995) Modelling the flow of nitrogen and phosphorus in Europe: from loads to coastal seas. Water Sci Technol 31(8):141–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carpenter SR, Caraco NF, Correll DL, Howarthet RW, Sharpley AN, Smith VH (1998) Nonpoint pollution of surface waters with phosphorus and nitrogen. Ecol Appl 8(3):559–568CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Crouzet P, Leonard J, Nixon S, Rees Y, Parr W, Laffon, L, Bogestrand J, Kristensen P, Lallana C, Izzo G, Bokn T, Bak J, Lack TJ, Thyssen N (ed) (1999) Nutrients in European ecosystems. European Environment Agency, Copenhagen, Environmental assessment report, no 4Google Scholar
  6. Dyer SD, Belanger SE (1999) Determination of the sensitivity of macroinvertebrates in stream mesocosms through field-derived assessments. Environ Tox Chem 18:2903–2907.Google Scholar
  7. Heijungs R, Guinée JB, Huppes G, Lankreijer RM, Udo de Haes HA, Wegener Sleeswijk A, Ansems AMM, Eggels AMM, Van Duin R, De Goede HP (1992) Environmental life cycle assessment of products. Guidelines and backgrounds. Centre of Environmental Sciences, LeidenGoogle Scholar
  8. Huijbregts MAJ, Seppälä J (2001) Life cycle impact assessment of pollutants causing aquatic eutrophication. Int J LCA 6(6):339–344CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Klepper O, Beusen AHW, Bollen MSJ, Meinardi CR (1995) Modelling the flow of nitrogen and phosphor in Europe: from loads to coastal seas (RIVM report 461501004). National Institute of Public Health and Environmental Protection (RIVM), BilthovenGoogle Scholar
  10. Kristensen P, Hansen HO (1994) European rivers and lakes. Assessment of their environmental state. European Environmental Agency, Copenhagen, EEA environmental monographs 1Google Scholar
  11. Metcalfe JL (1989) Biological water quality assessment of running waters based on macroinvertebrate communities: history and present status in Europe. Environ Pollut 60:101–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Potting J, Beusen A, Øllgaard H, Hansen OC, De Haan B, Hauschild M (2005) Aquatic eutrophication. In: Potting J, Hauschild M (eds) Technical background for spatial differentiation in life cycle impact assessment. Danish Environmental Protection Agency, CopenhagenGoogle Scholar
  13. Redfield AC, Ketchum BH, Richards FA (1963) The influence of organisms on the composition of sea water. In: Hill MN (ed) The sea, vol 2. Interscience, New York, pp 26–27Google Scholar
  14. RIVM (2000) Environmental Outlook 2000–2030. Samson H.D. Tjeenk Willink bv, Alphen aan den Rijn. (in Dutch)Google Scholar
  15. Seppälä J, Knuuttila S, Silvo K (2004) Eutrophication of aquatic ecosystems. A new Method for calculating the potential contributions of nitrogen and phosphorus. Int J LCA 9(2):90–100CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Smith RA, Alexander RB, Schwarz GE (2003) Natural background concentrations of nutrients in streams and rivers of the conterminous United States. Environ Sci Technol 34:3039–3048CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Struijs J, De Zwart D, Leuven, RSEW, Huijbregts MAJ (2010) Field sensitivity distribution of macroinvertebrates for phosphorus in inland waters. Accepted for publication in Integr Environ Assess ManageGoogle Scholar
  18. United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs/Population Division (2004) World population to 2300. United Nations, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  19. Van den Brink PJ, Ter Braak CJF (1998) Multivariate analysis of stress in experimental ecosystems by Principal Response Curves and similarity analysis. Aquat Ecol 32:163–178CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jaap Struijs
    • 1
  • Arthur Beusen
    • 2
  • Dick de Zwart
    • 1
  • Mark Huijbregts
    • 3
  1. 1.National Institute for Public Health and the EnvironmentLaboratory for Ecological Risk Assessment (LER Pb 9)BilthovenThe Netherlands
  2. 2.Netherlands Environmental Assessment AgencyInformation Services and MethodologyBilthovenThe Netherlands
  3. 3.Department of Environmental Science, Institute for Water and Wetland Research, Faculty of ScienceRadboud UniversityNijmegenThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations